MODESTO -- She was once trusted to help Stanislaus County’s most vulnerable population and now Lorene Deanda stands accused of taking advantage of senior citizens.
For community organizers who help senior citizens in Modesto, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton is usually a source of answers, help and dependability.
"They have a really good reputation in the community," said immigration attorney Maegan Fulencheck. "I’ve seen work that they’ve done and it’s been good."
"So I actually have received services myself and it continues to be an organization that really lives up to their values," said community organizer Homero Mejia.
The faith-based organization's image is now marred after Deanda is accused of shattering that trust. She is suspected of stealing social security benefits, amounting to more than half a million dollars.
"But every organization can hire the wrong person," Fulencheck said.
FOX40 spoke to Elvira Ramirez, the executive director of the organization.
"We are regretful that anyone would take advantage of seniors when we made a commitment to protect them," she wrote.
Ramirez also explained Deanda was first employed in 1996 then fired for unreleased reasons in 2015. Ramirez says Deanda served as the representative payee coordinator, who was supposed to help clients with their social security benefits.
Instead, court documents claim she stole some of that money and used it to pay for personal expenses.
Deanda filed for bankruptcy in 2016 with a debt of more than $69,000.
"They're a crucial part of this community and I think they're a safety net to a lot of families," Mejia said.
Ramirez said they are working with social security to improve internal controls and added the organization is unsure how exactly Deanda may have stolen the benefits.
Fulencheck said consumers should ask questions before entrusting a person or organization with their financial well-being.
"A lot of people probably could have been protected just from something as simple as asking for a receipt," Fulencheck told FOX40.
According to court documents, she was arrested last week and pleaded not guilty. She is due back in court on Jan. 7.
FOX40 tried to contact Deanda but was unsuccessful.
The following documents provided by Stanislaus County's Community Services Agency can help seniors who believe they have been scammed.